Real Life

Len Brown – why I’m following my heart

Watching the Auckland mayor make funny faces at his wife, it’s hard to believe these two disliked each other on sight.

When the pair met 20 years ago, they clashed over sharing a secretary. Now they share the responsibility for raising a family, as well as the high-powered partnership of being mayor and mayoress of Auckland.

Instead of leaving her job to support her husband’s position, Shan (50) is still a full-time lawyer, who’s a partner in her own firm.

Their demanding jobs make it difficult to get enough time together and see their three daughters, Victoria (12) and olivia (15), who are still living at home, and Samantha (23) who has just completed a degree in town planning and has recently had her first baby, Luca (1), with fiancé Tim Colgan.

However, Shan doesn’t consider herself very different from other working mums.

“There are lots of women in the workforce who have the same kind of challenges with managing home and work,” she points out.

The key to the pair’s busy lives is keeping to a firm routine, so the house runs like clockwork.

“We tend to lead quite a structured life,” says Shan. “With three daughters, it’s probably been the only way to survive over the years.”

It’s been one year since Len (55), the former mayor of Manukau, was elected mayor of the new Auckland Super City.

Although Shan (50) only has time to attend one to two events a week with her husband, she takes care to do her part for the city.

The couple has decided to host a mayoress’ charity gala ball together – similar to an event they used to hold in Manukau. The ball, on November 19 at the Viaduct Events Centre, has a masquerade ooulin Rouge theme and will raise money for Auckland youth.

“We had some great events in Manukau and it’s a concept that’s nice to bring to Auckland as a whole,” Shan smiles.

one of Len’s favourite parts of his job is the power he has to make positive changes in others’ lives.

“People are extraordinarily courteous to me and I’ve loved the opportunity to be the first mayor for a united Auckland.”

on the downside, Len says his life is like living in a fishbowl and he lacks time to spend with Shan and his daughters.

“one of the challenges is we still have two of our three children at home,” he explains.

Len and Shan first met when they were both working as lawyers. They had to share a secretary, which soon became a sore point. “[Shan] didn’t have any time for me at all,” Len recalls with a smile.

“She thought I was a bit of a yuppie and I thought she was overly quiet.”

“He was a yuppie!” Shan says.

When they met up over a case a few years later, it became clear that opposites attract, and Len asked Shan out.

“We’d both changed a bit by then,” says Shan.

“I’d stopped being a yuppie,” laughs Len.

Shan is still one of Len’s biggest critics, but she’s also his greatest supporter.

“We’ve got a wonderful, easy friendship,” explains Shan.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” says Len.

Their youngest daughter olivia was born prematurely at 32 weeks and had to fight to survive. And Len’s frightening heart attack in 2008 was another crisis for the family.

Len is now a new man, thanks to heart bypass surgery and lifestyle changes.

“I eat much better – a lot more fruit and water,” he says.

Len has also cut back on the amount of alcohol he drinks at social and professional events.

“I’m mostly a sparkling water guy.”

However, avoiding the many savouries served at the endless meetings he attends is another danger for Len.

“All the food that comes with the meetings is the biggest danger in politics, because you can blow out really fast,” he says.

“I have to be very disciplined to stick to breakfast, lunch and dinner and that’s it – nothing in between.”

The effects of this new regime are clear to see.

“People rarely ask me how I’m going now – it’s obvious I’m in great health,” says Len.

“And the rigours of office don’t seem to be having any impact on me at all. If anything, they’re strengthening me.

“The fact I just love this job is a huge help in dealing with the overpowering nature of it.”

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